October 03, 2002

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP)--Nigeria on Thursday postponed the Miss World pageant until after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, bowing to Muslim objections and some threats to disrupt the beauty contest.

Nigeria's first lady, Stella Obasanjo, said in a statement Thursday that the pageant will take place Dec. 7 in the capital Abuja, a day after the Muslim fasting month ends, out of ``genuine consideration for our Muslim brothers and sisters.''

The pageant was originally scheduled to take place Nov. 30.

Miss World is being billed as largest entertainment event ever to be held in Africa's most populous country. The government hoped to use it to showcase the nation of 120 million people as a tourist destination.

However, the pageant has come under increasing fire from both Muslim groups and beauty queens. Contestants are joining a growing pageant boycott to protest a death by stoning sentence against Amina Lawal, 31.

An Islamic court in northern Nigeria condemned Lawal for having sex outside of marriage.

Contestants from Spain, France, Kenya, Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland have said they will not participate.

The National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs last week accused pageant organizers of gross insensitivity and called for the government to cancel the pageant, which they slammed as a ``show of shame contest.''

But it was not clear if a new date would halt protests by Muslim groups. The Jama'atul Muslimeen Sokoto Society has derided the pageant as ``nothing but a parade of nudity'' and previously said holding the event in Nigeria could not be justified even if it took place outside Ramadan.

The National Council of Muslim Youths has also protested, vowing to disrupt the event.

None of the groups was available for comment Thursday night.

The threats prompted the Nigerian government last month to issue a statement assuring contestants they would be safe in Nigeria. The culture and tourism minister had earlier warned participants not to travel into the mainly Muslim north of the country where Islamic law, or Shariah, is practiced.

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